Ten years ago, the Scottish Executive signed an historic co-operation agreement with the Government of Malawi.
Building on ties first established by David Livingstone, the explorer, medic and missionary, this agreement has seen successive Scottish and Malawian governments work together and deepen these historic links.
The importance of nurturing the relationship between Scotland and Malawi was first brought home to me by the tireless campaigner Rev Andrew Ross. I first met the late Rev Ross in his capacity as honorary president of Edinburgh University Association Football Club, but when I later worked as an adviser in the Scottish Executive, he instilled in me an understanding of the need to re-energise Scotland’s relationship with the Warm Heart of Africa. It was an honour, if a bit of a surprise, to find myself at the Doc’s graveside in the missionaries cemetery in Blantyre during a visit to Malawi earlier this year. He is sorely missed, but his legacy in binding together the two countries he loved so much lives on.
The former Labour First Minister Jack McConnell signed the co-operation agreement in 2005, but his contribution was never simply ceremonial. His personal drive delivered the agreement, and his passionate belief in the benefits that the relationship can bring to both countries has remained undimmed ever since.
I have the privilege of co-convening the cross-party group on Malawi at the Scottish Parliament. It is a very active group, and at our meeting earlier this month we took time to reflect on just some of what has been achieved over the past 10 years.
The Scotland Malawi Partnership, which I cannot praise highly enough, has produced an excellent document detailing 10 case studies from the past 10 years that help to illustrate the breadth and range of projects and relationships that have been supported. That breadth is truly astonishing. 94,000 Scots and 198,000 Malawians are actively involved in one way or another, and £40 million has been raised through Scottish communities.
Those projects and relationships span many areas, including health and education, the environment and energy, agriculture and trade, and arts and culture, to name but a few. What makes Scotland’s relationship with Malawi so special, so resilient and so impactful is the way that it binds and builds from the grass roots up.
The Scotland Malawi Partnership’s document highlights the civic links that exist, which I see for myself in my own constituency. Links between schools such as Sanday and Westray and their counterparts in Minga and Chitengu remain strong, as do the ties between the Orkney and Thyolo presbyteries. Those links benefit people in both communities enormously; anyone who is in any doubt about that should have heard the compelling presentations from Gleniffer high school pupils to the CPG back in September. However, that raises the question of how we spread those benefits to other schools, particularly schools in Malawi, and what more we can do to encourage and support young girls to get the education that they are all too often still missing out on. Those challenges still lie ahead.
Similarly, although we are seeing positive signs on the health front, with HIV infection and maternal mortality rates dropping, there can be absolutely no let-up. The picture for far too many Malawians is still too bleak.
In other areas, such as improving gay rights, I believe more must be done, and we need to respond positively to the calls from Malawians for more attention to be given to stimulating trade between our two countries, as the surest way of helping build a strong and sustainable Malawian economy.
Working together with our partners in Malawi, we have achieved a great deal over the last 10 years. It is now time to build on the success of this genuinely unique partnership.